The Brighton School: George Albert Smith, James Williamson and the Early Development of Film in Brighton & Hove, 1895-1901
Prof S Laing
This study is devoted to the work of two early English film-makers, George Albert Smith and James Williamson, and the films that they made around 1900. Internationally, they are known collectively as the “Brighton School” and positioned as being at the forefront of Britain’s contribution to the birth of film language.
The years 1895 to 1901 provide this study with its focus as it was during this short period that film emerged as a new technology and a new form of entertainment. Smith (1864-1959) established his film factory at Hove in 1897 and from here produced his major films. For this work, he drew upon his knowledge of contemporary music hall, theatre, pantomime, popular literature, mesmerism, the magic lantern and the work of other film-makers. Out of this context, Smith made two very significant edited films: The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) and Grandma’s Reading Glass (1900). Williamson (1856-1933) drew on similar impulses for his films as well as photography and current events such as the Boer War and Boxer Rebellion. His films of 1900 and 1901 were inspired by Smith’s concept of the edited sequence and, as a result, he produced his first multi-shot narrative films, Attack on a China Mission (1900) and Fire! (1901).
This work by Smith and Williamson provided their contemporary film-makers with a new understanding of the edited film - a concept which would enable film-makers to move beyond the paradigm of theatre and into a consciousness determined by the developing nature of cinematography itself.